YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Like many entrepreneurs, A’nya Reynolds’ business sprang from a personal need.
She had eczema and her skin would break out if she used the scented lotions available. So Reynolds collaborated with her mother to make her own shea butter and eventually formed a business to sell it.
“If you have really sensitive skin, you can use it on your body and your face,” she says, “and the scents don’t break you out.”
Unlike many entrepreneurs, she was only 9 years old when she began her business.
Reynolds, now 11, started A’nya Rose Shea Butter Co. in May 2021 through the Youth Entrepreneurship program of the Youngstown Business Incubator.
YBI launched the program in 2021, says Megan Payich, director of the program since August. The youth program previously was headed by Reynolds’ mother, Tanisha Wheeler, now regional director of the Minority Business Assistance Center housed at YBI.
Payich says she sees the youth entrepreneurship program – which targets ages 8 to 18 – as “long-term outreach” that ties into the general mission of promoting and nurturing entrepreneurship.
“I wanted to start placing those ideas in young minds so that 10 years down the line, when they become adults, we have more entrepreneurs, we have more people that know about YBI and what we have to offer … letting kids know that they can start businesses and getting that entrepreneurial mindset going for our young people in the area,” she says.
Entrepreneurship is an underused means of building wealth in the community, says Barb Ewing, CEO of YBI.
“You can’t expect young people to nurture their own businesses without somebody helping to facilitate that. Even if they want to do it, they certainly need helping hands to get from point A to point B,” she says.
Young people, as they become adults, are unlikely to “sprout an interest in entrepreneurship if it hasn’t been nurtured up to that point,” Ewing says.
“If there’s a vacuum around them and they’re not seeing role models or not seeing success stories, they’re not going to see that as a possibility,” she adds. “And those are the companies that create jobs, that create wealth.”
Youth in Entrepreneurship offers a small number of programs, including entrepreneurship education and career exploration, Payich says. During the past year, YBI began to offer immersive learning about careers by using virtual reality and augmented reality.
Industries covered in career exploration range from hospitality/culinary arts and agriculture to engineering and aviation/aerospace. Others include construction/manufacturing; entertainment; media/communications; oil, gas and energy; maritime/shipping; and environmental technology.
“We do these tours. And we’ll introduce the students to these careers,” Payich says. The bulk of the programming offered occurs during the school year.
So far, about 125 students have come through the program, including Reynolds, she says. Among them is another preteen girl with a dog-walking business.
“We’ve been doing mentoring sessions one-on-one,” Payich says. “We’ve been guiding them through filling out a business plan and the steps of how to start a business.”
Reynolds, who reports she sold 30 jars of her product during a month or so last year, says the program has helped her to learn how to build and control her business. She specifically cites Payich for the help she has provided, including helping in make stickers for her shea butter products.
“She influenced me to keep doing my business,” she says. Her mother also helped with getting the business registered with the office of the Ohio Secretary of State, a service YBI helps youth entrepreneurs with.
Youth in Entrepreneurship offers various opportunities for participants to demonstrate what they’ve learned. Around the holiday season, students in the Launchpad program will participate in a market where they will sell the items they have created and showcase their business ideas.
In the spring, the program will host a communitywide Lemonade Day, a part of a nationwide program that teaches kids about entrepreneurship. Participants will go through concepts of entrepreneurship. At the end of the program they will have a lemonade stand for a day to demonstrate what they learned.
“They actually learn how to reinvest [their income from sales] in their business, save a little, and pay themselves,” Payich says. “We take them though the steps of ‘this is how much you pay yourself.’ You
make sure you cover your costs to your business and then there is also a portion where you can budget to share and donate” to a cause of their choice.
Although YBI doesn’t provide funds directly into youth-owned enterprises, the incubator helps young entrepreneurs with the fees associated with launching a business though the Ohio Secretary of State’s office and other associated startup fees.
The program exposes students to a range of opportunities, Payich says: “We’re just trying to create future leaders, get them exposed to different ideas.”
Pictured at top: A’nya Reynolds is a graduate of the YBI Youth Entrepreneurship program. Megan Payich directs the program.